The Visitors Bring Joy to a Man Who Rarely Smiles

Walter is an unenthusiastic professor at Connecticut College. He uses the same syllabus year after year, isn’t friendly with his students, and barely emotes with colleagues. We met him last night in a wonderful movie recommended to us by Nat and Val called “The Visitor.”

Visitors in this film come in various degrees. There are visitors to our homes, like the couple who moved into Walter’s New York apartment unbidden, victims of a scam artist named Ivan. Walter discovers the squatters, who are illegal immigrants from Senegal and Syria but instead of kicking them out, he sympathizes, and asks them to stay. They are also visitors to the US, trying to blend in, work, and play music, and also illegal visitors to this apartment.

We watch as the stiff Walter begins to learn how to drum, how to use his palms softly on an African hide-covered drum to create music, tutored by Tarek, the affable Syrian. Walter loves the drums and practices with his new friend, finally smiling after so many years of frowns. When Tarek gets snared by immigration police, Walter’s life has new meaning. He meets Tarek’s mother, who flies in from Michigan to find out what’s going on with her son.

Walter is an unlikely member of a drumming circle, but finds joy in creating music and joy in having these improbable new friends he can have dinner with and who he cares about. Since his wife died, he’s lived in an isolated bubble, pretending to be doing important academic work but admitting it’s all a joke.

The movie slowly portrays the transformation, of a man with little to live for suddenly being surrounded by people who need him, and the relationship between Walter and Mrs Kahlil progresses. These are good people, not terrorists, and seeing them face the threat of deportation is heartbreaking for Walter and for the viewers. The film shows a side of the ‘War on Terror’ that we don’t have many chances to reflect on…that many good people are swept away when you paint them as evil because of where they came from.